August 27, 2014

How CEOs Can Save Lives: Help Employees Donate a Kidney

Most people know that they can donate a kidney to someone who needs one.
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Most people know that they can donate a kidney to someone who needs one. The data show that live kidney donation poses relatively low risks to the donor’s health, both in the 

short- and long-term. Donating a kidney in life is an extraordinary act of generosity. There are 100,000 people in the US awaiting a kidney donation. There is the “list”, which makes kidneys available from cadavers, but the need far exceeds the supply of post-mortem donations.

I come to this issue with some history. My Dad had Polycystic Kidney Disease, a progressive hereditary condition that results in kidney failure. He started dialysis in his forties, which kept him alive long enough to receive a cadaver donation from the list. He lived another 10 years. The current thinking is to keep people off dialysis if at all possible, getting them a transplanted kidney and avoiding the long-term ill effects of dialysis.

Although the odds were 50-50 for me and my brother on PKD, we both have it. My brother Mike’s disease is progressing more quickly than mine, and he is nearing kidney failure. It’s not a white-hot emergency. Dialysis is a good backup. And he’s had numerous friends and family members initiate the testing to serve as a live kidney donor for him.

Witnessing the spirit of willingness to embark on the testing has been something. An awesome outpouring of support from many circles, and with social media, the circles are wide. One of my friends who is in testing was asked on a form why he was considering giving a kidney to my brother . He wrote: “Mike needs a kidney. I have two. The math checks out.” As simple as the equation is for this person, the math is tougher for others.

Kidney donation health expenses are all covered by the insurance and some government benefits of the recipient. But the law precludes any other type of incentive, financial or otherwise. This issue was the subject of a recent New York Times piece. When you donate, you need between 2-6 weeks to recover. A number of people opted out of Mike’s process because they couldn’t deal with lost income of time off  or they feared they’d lose their jobs.

So great business leaders, here’s a wild thought. If you can swing it inside your company for the very few who will choose to make this grandiose sacrifice, make it easy. Let them know at a minimum that you’ll hold their job, that you’ll allow them to do more phone meetings and work from home during their recovery, that you’ll figure out a way to get them sick time, disability, or PTO, that you will celebrate their courageous gesture. I  haven’t thought enough about all the possibilities here, but I imagine that if you — you forward-leaning heads of companies — stand up and say that at your company, this act is not only tolerated but valued, it would help. It might help a lot.

A small step with enormous potential reverberations.

Sue Heilbronner

Sue Heilbronner is an executive coach, Conscious Leadership facilitator, and catalyst for change.

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